George Sarant

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Archive for March 2013

HOW TO SAVE THE POST OFFICE

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Postal service seems to vary considerably between the city (where it is miserable) and my summer house community, where it is wonderful. Sadly it is the rural post offices that are most threatened by the Post Office’s fiscal problems, but from them we can see the kernel of an idea of how the Post Office can be rescued. In these areas the Post Office is more than a mail service. It functions as a community and information center, sometimes the only one.

We should look at postal facilities as more than post offices. They are in fact an extension of the federal government in every community. In many, for example, you can pick up tax forms or items related to passports. So why don’t we build and expand upon this? Why not use it as a base for some of the other things (sometimes too many things) that the government does or provides so that it functions more like a general field office. The convenience and savings are potentially enormous. It could reduce duplication, excess facility costs that could be shared, and provide an enhanced and efficient base for public services. 

It’s time to think outside the box and consider how this might be implemented. This is just a suggestion, but there could be a follow-up study (provided it doesn’t become too obscure) to consider the feasibility of this approach, such as what agencies could combine and piggy-back some of their operations. We already have a built-in vast network of facilities throughout the country. Why not make better use of them? 

 

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Written by georgesarant

March 31, 2013 at 7:44 PM

THE REPUBLICAN COASTAL DISEASE

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The national Republican party is increasingly in danger of going the way of the moribund New York party I’ve written about previously here, where yet again the party establishment is lining up behind another gruff, inarticulate candidate whose only virtue is money, and who is certain to wind up an embarrassment if nominated. It doesn’t even matter that such candidates aren’t even Republicans, or are recent converts of convenience, as long as they are willing to part with some cash for the party establishment apparatus. When a party starts looking for candidates who can self-finance you know it is in trouble, as it portends nothing more than a lack of a broad-based support network. The party in California is in the same shape, although there at least the last statewide candidates were good. 

This pattern just confirms the phony depiction of the Republicans as the “party of the rich,” never mind that the super-rich actually favor Democrats. It is in fact a bona fide middle class party, but it doesn’t help when the last candidate for President, as good and decent a man as he was, only confirms this stereotype. People see this and form their perceptions, often concluding that “he doesn’t represent people like me.” The only way the party can gain strength is to do the nitty gritty work on the ground and build from the bottom up, rather than wait until election season and hope the right candidate comes along. Even if such a person does materialize they can’t magically create a functioning party structure where none exists, which is pretty much the case at the moment on both coasts. 

The party establishment often gets the blame from conservative activists, and there is some truth to this, to the extent that they have frequently connived to rent out the party line. No one should be able to buy a nomination for office in either party, but it continues to happen. But that is ultimately where failure commences, when the party ceases to represent the people it is supposed to represent. The usual prescription to correct this is to limit the amount of money in politics. However, it is in fact such restrictions on donations that has handed rich guys the keys to the party since they are willing to spend their own money, making campaign finance rules ludicrous. I’ve argued a number of times here that what we need is electoral reform: first a limit on how long campaigns can go on, and second, that candidates ought to be nominated by the elected officials of the party, who after all, have been chosen for public office by the electorate. However, the prudent way to approach big questions is incrementally, not in a rush to “reform” or correct a situation that often backfires due to unforeseen circumstances. Any change should first be tried out in a few states to see how it works before becoming a national template. 

Republicans aren’t losing on ideas as much as organization, or the lack of it. It is increasingly impossible to win an election if you write off large geographic sections of the electorate. The problem isn’t with “minorities” as we hear all the time, but rather with geography. The division into so-called “red” and “blue” states, or tactics to maximize the party’s “own” turnout may occasionally work, as in the past few presidential elections, but it is a terrible long-term strategy. Both parties are guilty of this. The way to start repairing this is to ask the questions “Why aren’t we getting the vote in these states?” and “What can we do to appeal to them?”  

A decade ago former Governor Zell Miller wrote a book called A National Party No More about the Democrats. The same could now be said about the Republicans. When a huge block of voters on both coasts are basically written off it is that much harder to win an election.The national party should look at states where they are faltering and resuscitate the local parties. It was not so long ago that California or New York could be successfully contested. They should be again, by doing the necessary work of building a party from the ground up instead of from the top down. 

Written by georgesarant

March 23, 2013 at 5:18 PM

GOVERNING TO THE MAX

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The federal, state, and local governments always adapt the most optimistic scenario of revenues going forward, and then proceed to go ahead and spend on that basis. When these projections don’t materialize they are caught unprepared, especially at the state and local level, since they cannot print money like the federal government. Prudence would suggest that rather than proceeding on the rosiest assumptions, more cautious figures ought to be used. Instead they assume that things will be as good or better than they are at the moment, never worse. This is not to suggest that more realistic projections are not made in some cases, but those tend to be ignored in practice.

But things do occasionally get worse and revenues do fall below expectations. Everyone else has to tighten their belts when things go south. Businesses have to cut back ,as do individuals, but not the government, or it goes into crisis mode. In the recession everyone else has had to do more with less, but government just keeps growing, especially at the federal level. Locally, when the economy tanks there is less flexibility. If suburban property values fall, as they have in the housing bust, the income from property taxes that local governments depend upon is going to be reduced since houses are worth less. With reduced revenue they must choose between cutting back or increasing taxes, opting for the latter to the extent they can get away with it.

If governments simply adapted more realistic assumptions they would be in far less trouble, as several states are now, and there would be more stability, But when times are flush and the tax revenues roll in they make sure they spend every penny of it, usually for “unmet needs,” instead of either reducing debt, maintaing a rainy day account, or returning money to the people it belongs to through tax reductions. They usually go for the maximum they can squeeze out, and this is a feature that has been characteristic of all governments throughout history, no matter what form they take.

There is a reason for this, which takes us to my Prime Axiom: All entities constantly seek to grow and expand. Whether it is the state, social institutions, business, educational or religious institutions, at the top of the agenda is continued growth and expansion. It is a collective organic compulsion that takes on a life of its own. Rare is the entity that seeks to reduce itself. There is an even more basic reason for this; people always want more. Whether it is power, money, glory or simply more stuff, everyone wants more. That being the case, people in institutions continuously want more out of the environment they operate in. They  feel compelled to be bigger tomorrow than they are today. it is no surprise that government acts in the same way. The differences is that there are fewer checks and limitations on the state than there are  in any other domain. They get to write their own rules.

Once we understand how compelling these characteristics are in human nature, it is easy to see why government, which is composed of human beings, inevitably grows without limitation. The state always seeks to govern with the maximum number of resources it can obtain.  This leads to ever increasing incursions into the private sphere, which is diminished, as it retreats before the endless state appetite for power and revenue. But as the government takes on more and more, its effectiveness becomes less and less, until it can no longer honor its commitments and heads towards collapse.

How then do we reduce the insatiable appetite of the state? It can only happen if people become aware of the process that is engulfing all of us. There are some states where government has changed course, limiting itself and lowering taxes, and it is no surprise that they are growing while other states with high taxes and regulation are losing jobs and people to them. It is only when we realize what we are doing to ourselves, for we do have a government composed of the representatives of the people, that we can begin to reverse course. We do not always need more and more, and must learn to limit ourselves. Some things do not get better with growth and expansion, for where the state is concerned, it contains the seeds of its own demise.

Written by georgesarant

March 16, 2013 at 10:11 PM